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Nutrition for the elderly: study highlights a lack of calcium rich food for aged care residents

Elderly people in aged care are reportedly consuming only one serve of dairy per day, which is far less than the four serves required for recommended calcium intake – not to mention protein intake. Addressing this issue is vital as protein and calcium deficiency can have serious consequences for an elderly person’s health.

Lead researcher, Dr Sandra Iuliano from the University of Melbourne, said that less than a quarter of aged care residents were consuming the recommended intake of dairy. She urged that aged care professionals, as well as food service providers, should be better educated on the importance of calcium rich foods and protein intake.

Missing out on dairy could be viewed as an oversight – and an easily remedied one – as there are several advantages for including it in an elderly person’s diet. It is easy to consume; either by drinking milk, eating yoghurt or biting into soft cheese.  It’s also affordable, easily accessible, easy to add to other foods and most people enjoy the taste.

“Dairy foods are a good source of protein and can be easily consumed by the elderly, even for those on texture modified foods. Adding dairy foods to meals, drinks or snacks is an easy way of incorporating them into the diet,” said Dr Iuliano.

“Dairy foods are a good source of protein and can be easily consumed by the elderly, even for those on texture modified foods. Adding dairy foods to meals, drinks or snacks is an easy way of incorporating them into the diet.”

According to the research, residents were more likely to consume the recommended amount of meat compared to the dairy food group despite both being excellent sources of protein. Unfortunately, by missing out on dairy, residents miss out on the added benefits of calcium rich foods also containing other nutrients not found in meat.

In the study of 215 residents from various facilities around Victoria, researchers found that residents consuming less than two serves of dairy per day were likely to be suffering protein deficiency and those who consumed less than one serve were at risk of malnutrition.

At the Dietitians Association of Australia’s national conference in Perth, these findings were presented as part of a large randomised trial which aimed to improve nutrition for the elderly and reduce the rate of fractures by 30% simply by increasing dairy intake.

This dairy intervention study is measuring the impact of additional calcium rich foods on muscle mass, strength and function as well as bone density. By including more of the dairy food group in the diets of elderly residents, it is hoped they can improve their nutrition and health, which will lead to fewer falls, fractures and a greater quality of life – while simultaneously enjoying a greater range of food.

Falls are currently a major concern in elderly care centres with on average one in ten aged care residents experiencing a fall and associated fractures.

All adults over the age of 50 should be consuming enough calcium rich food to equal 1300mg of calcium per day. This can equate to three cups of low-fat or fat-free milk, yoghurt, or any other dairy product daily. One cup of yoghurt contains about the same amount of calcium as one cup of milk. Alternatively, eating 60g of processed cheese is equivalent to drinking one cup of milk.

Nutrition for the elderly: study highlights a lack of calcium rich food for aged care residents - Sage Institute of Aged CareIt is important that elderly people meet their calcium requirements because as we age, our skeleton loses calcium. In particular, women lose calcium from their bones for several years after menopause. Both men and women, however, lose bone mass as they grow older, so eating foods to meet the recommended calcium intake is important to offset these losses. Although calcium can’t reverse age-related bone loss, it can slow it down.

Vicki Tuchtan

Vicki Tuchtan

Vicki Tuchtan is the Academic Director at Sage Institute of Education. She oversees learning processes, teaching outcomes, resources and course development. A passionate advocate for bettering standards of training in Australia, she is currently writing her PhD thesis on defining quality training in the Australian vocational education sector.
Vicki Tuchtan

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